Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 20: Dying Without Law

D&C76:72-74 (Speaking of those in the terrestrial kingdom) - - These are they who died without law; And also they who are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited and preached the gospel unto them, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh; Who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it.

D&C 137:7 - - All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God . . . .

So, what does it mean to "die without law?" If you reject the gospel in this life, do you get a "do-over" to get into the terrestrial kingdom? How do you square these two scriptures?


  1. I believe these are two separate populations. In the poem, 'The Vision,' the prophet adds color to 76:72 -

    'Behold, these are they that have died without law;
    'The heathen of ages that never had hope,'

    These are folks that, had they been given the law, would have failed (i.e., they 'never had hope'). These heathen nations don't ever receive the law which they would have rejected in this life. It is a 'protected' earthly population sans proselytizing per God's plan for those people - a type of mercy that extends the terrestial kingdom to those who would otherwise be telestial beings.

    This is different than those who, by temporal circumstance, didn't hear the gospel, but would have accepted it had they had the opportunity. Hence, by nature, celestial beings.

    See full poem, 'The Vision':

  2. I'm not sure I see a need to square those two scriptures. It is interesting though that the more comprehensive of the two was received earlier. But is there a glaring difference between the two? Please be patient with me as I am slow of speech and slower of comprehension (think Bizarro Superman).

  3. Joel: Thanks for the link to the poem. I have never heard of it before and it is a cool resource.

    I like to think the "heathen nations" (whatever that dated term means) and those who died without knowing the truth, but who would have accepted it, are two separate populations, too. I think most members of the Church think that. But I have never been able to get there from section 76 (or any other scripture, really). I mean, why the "heathen nations" distinction if it all boils down to whether someone would or would not accept the gospel? Does it matter if someone was born in Central Africa in the 1400s or Spain in the 1800s or Central LA in the 1900s? If they never heard of the gospel and never had an opportunity to accept the gospel, what is the difference? I love the doctrine that God will fashion an individual judgment for each of us based upon or works and the desires of our hearts. The “heathens in the terrestrial kingdom” thing has always confused and bothered me.

  4. Easton: One of my challenges with Section 76 is that people seem to approach it almost as a formula, highly predictive of where any given individual will ulitmately end up. The more I think about this amazing revelation, the less confident I feel that I really know what it means. I think it has some interesting gaps and ambiguities that demonstrate to me that God will truly have to be perfect to make a just amd merciful judgment about each of his individual children and their ultimate destiny.

  5. Let me make a distinction between opportunity to accept the gospel and rejecting the law.

    There are individuals that, given the opportunity, could initially accept the gospel, but for some reason or another reject living its laws. This would bring them under a great condemnation. Hence, the protection afforded them by being labeled 'heathen nations.'

    This is different than 'the chosen' that, given the right opportunity, would hear and follow the law completely.

  6. Joel: I totally agree that opportunity to accept and knowing rejection is the critical distinction. My confusion arises from the use of the term "heathen nations," which I think is generally understood as a (no longer p.c.) term for non-christian countries or regions. If the question is, "Would I have accepted the gospel, given the opportunity?", I do not understand why it matters that I was born in time or place where Chirst was not known, or in some other circumstance that deprived me of the chance to hear and accept. Do you think "heathen nations" means something in section 76 different from the generally understood meaning?

  7. I think I understand your comment regarding heathen nations.

    I take a broad, metaphorical view of the term. That, in essence it refers to any group or individual 'protected' from receiving the gospel. I agree labeling a group or person heathen isn't a great approach. More important, to know this class of people exist, and it is an expression of the Lord's mercy (despite un-pc terminology).

  8. I realize I'm a little late on this discussion, but I just found it. Look at the sentence structure between verses 72 and 74 (D&C 76): it's all tied together. One sentence. is it possible that "those who died without law" are the same group in 73, "the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited," as well as the same group in 74, "who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh"...thus, they died without law because they did not receive it in the flesh.


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